Criminal Minds

Season 4 Episode 5

Catching Out

Aired Wednesday Oct 29, 2008 on CBS

Episode Recap

The whistle blows and the freight train travels on through the night, hurrying through town after town, until it finally slows and one man jumps from an open car. He's dirty and tired, and the pack on his back is heavy as he trudges down the darkened alley. Fences enclose the backyards, and trash cans are lined up in rows, ready for tomorrow's pick up. A light flares as he approaches one fence - motion detectors - and he scurries away. A dog snarls angrily at another. But finally he finds a house - dark, quiet, sitting back from the road. The images scatter and time passes, and, later, his bloody hand reaches for the handle of the shower faucet. The water flowing down the drain is bright red. The blisters around his mouth are sore, but he can't help himself and he inhales the fumes captured in the plastic bag - one deep breath and then another until his mind blurs. The pajamas are warm and clean, and the soft bed is inviting so he steps over the battered bodies of the man and woman and crawls under the covers. He'll watch some television before he puts out the light tonight. SSA Derek Morgan is sweetening his coffee at the FBI coffee shop when a beautiful woman walks in and catches his eye. She orders a brownie at the counter, and Morgan dumps his fresh hot cup into the trash and casually steps into line behind her. "Dessert for breakfast, must be a special occasion," he quips. She smiles and tells him that she's just received good news, but she's not sharing. He continues to flirt and make small talk, but the woman turns and lets him know that she's onto him. As she turns to walk off she leans towards him and says, "Have a nice day, Derek." Morgan is dumbstruck that he can't remember how he knows the woman at the coffee shop, and Prentiss and Reid tease him about his laundry list of sexual exploits before they settle into chairs in the conference room. JJ is standing at the plasma screen explaining the details of their latest case - a set of six burglary homicides all over central California. Although the area is quite large, the unsub's DNA was found in each of the homes, including that of the latest victims who were killed two days before. The head of the Sacramento Field Office has established a task force and has requested that the BAU run the operation. As the team glances through the files, they notice that the task force is extensive, and that local agencies have already named the unsub the "Highway 99 Killer." Hotchner observes they will deal with those issues when they arrive at the FBI Field Office. The killer strikes in one to two person households when the victims are asleep, and uses an item from the home to bludgeon them to death. After ransacking the homes for valuables, the unsub then eats a meal there, showers, wears their clothes, and sleeps in their beds. The motivation for the crimes does not seem to be entirely the burglaries. "It's like Goldilocks became a serial killer," notes Prentiss. There are no fingerprints found, and the unsub does not take the victims' cars nor are there reports of strange cars in the neighborhoods, so the unsub's mode of transportation is unknown. The lack of witnesses, noise, or prints tells the team that the unsub has prior experience, and that he will have a criminal record, they just have to find him before he strikes again. He is rested now, and the clothes are clean, as he runs along the tracks and catches the side rail of the fleeing train. He leaps aboard and is gone. "Plenty sits still; hunger is a wanderer." Zulu proverb. Reid maps out the unsub's kills as the team sits aboard the BAU jet. He's made four kills in five weeks, traveling north and south, changing direction and moving between towns 400 miles apart. Only two groups of unsubs fit this kind of pattern: an itinerant homeless person, or an occupational traveler such as truck driver Bruce Mendenhall who killed victims in at least four states. Prentiss reminds the team that Mendenhall targeted high-risk victims such as prostitutes or hitchhikers, and Hotchner adds that the victims' neighbors would have remembered a tractor trailer parked nearby. The unsub could be someone in corporate sales, real estate, computer hardware - there are too many possibilities at the moment. JJ has more bad news - they've just discovered another murder in Modesto, California. While Hotchner, JJ and Reid head to the Sacramento Office, Rossi, Prentiss and Morgan are on their way to Modesto. Special Agent Kevin Liman greets Hotchner as he arrives, and ushers them into a nearby conference room where a map of the crime scenes hangs on the wall next to a sign reading "Highway 99 Killer." Hotch asks the agent who named the killer, and Reid and JJ make themselves scarce, fairly sure that they know a confrontation is brewing between the two FBI agents. Liman tells Hotchner that he's gotten the CHP to concentrate their efforts all along that highway, but Hotchner interrupts him and explains that they are about to send out a memo to every agency retracting that name. When Liman questions his decision, Hotchner brings up Gary Ridgeway, the so-called "Green River Killer." He had been burying his victims in remote woods near Seattle, but investigators never looked there because they were so busy concentrating on the Green River area. Alhough all of the victims' locations are connected by Highway 99, the name will cause investigators to unconsciously eliminate some areas of inquiry because of it. The changes in procedure do not end there: Hotchner looks through the glass at the dozens of agents and law enforcement officers going through files and announces that they need to send most of the people on the task force home; they are "counterproductive." Liman is defensive, reminding Hotchner that all of these people have come from far away and have dedicated many hours to this case. Hotchner is firm - the investigators will be much more effectual in their hometowns. Controlling his reactions, Liman quietly bows to Hotchner's authority. As the local agent leaves the conference room, Reid steps back inside. As the dozens of investigators stare in through the window, Hotchner removes the "Highway 99 Killer" sign from the mapboard. In Modesto, officers and crime scene tape surround the home of the latest victims, the Sullivans, when Morgan, Rossi and Prentiss drive up. Detective Daniels begins to lead the three agents into the home, but turns around a moment later when he realizes that they are not following him. They've all noticed that the house doesn't have the three things that are most likely to scare off a burglar: dogs, alarms, or outside lights. This observation tells them that the unsub waits until he finds a house that is vulnerable - he doesn't just pick the first house he comes to. A bloody iron sits in plain view on an end table in the bedroom. Morgan finds a plastic bag stuffed with cotton balls doused with nail polish remover - the unsub "huffs" household cleaners to get high. Daniels tells Agent Rossi that the killer's point of entry was through an unlocked window in the laundry room; clearly he picked up the iron there and carried it with him. The two agents discuss the characteristics of the criminal: he shows disorganized tendencies in his choice of weapon and the level of rage involved in the attacks, and yet he is organized enough to follow a ritual after he kills. This killer is very unusual. The detective has one more strange piece of evidence to offer - the unsub's clothes. Mrs. Nelson, the Sullivan's neighbor, tells Prentiss that has not seen any strange people or vehicles in the area, and that she saw Larry Sullivan on his porch this morning when she went out to get the paper. Prentiss interrupts the woman, telling her that Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan were killed around 1:00 AM - the man she saw was not Larry Sullivan. Detective Daniels demonstrates by draping the unsub's clothes over the spot where the victims' bodies were found. The killer had put his own shirt and pants over the husband's body, as if clothing Larry Sullivan with his own clothes. "This might be some sort of transference," Rossi observes. The unsub is "symbolically" dressing the victim in his clothes, equalizing their status. All of the evidence points to an unsub who makes himself feel better about his station in life by usurping that of his victims. The man they are looking for is almost certainly homeless. Rossi quickly dials Reid and asks him if he sees tracks linking the cities - the unsub is hopping trains. Another small town. A man stands in an open boxcar, watching the scenery slow down as he passes. A couple lies quietly in their bed. The woman rolls over, thinking she heard her husband's voice, but he lays motionless, lifeless eyes staring at the ceiling. A figure appears in the darkness. The next morning the man enjoys the sunlight shining in through the windows, and sips coffee from a flowered mug. The sprays of blood that decorate the wall and bedclothes do not faze him as he picks up the morning paper and reads the headline: "Modesto Couple Victims of Highway 99 Killer." He stands and begins wiping his fingerprints from the surfaces of the home. He lays the newspaper down between his victims, placing the blood-caked bowling trophy that he used as a weapon on top of it before he gives his shirt one last tug into place on the man's chest. He slips the wife's wedding ring onto his own hand, picks up his backpack, and closes the door behind him. Rossi and Morgan interview the freight yard foreman in Modesto, and receive a lecture on the relationship between "bulls" - railroad detectives - and "'bos" - hobos. He calls himself an "armed scarecrow" - as soon as the hobos see him coming they run away. Any hobo who hits town would head for "the jungle," the nearby hobo camp, and he points out the way to the two detectives. Before he leaves, Rossi asks if there is a vending machine in the office. Prentiss is driving north along Highway 99 towards Sacramento, and stops to speak to Reid on her cell phone. All she has seen is farmland blooming with ripe crops. Since Highway 99 parallels the railroad line, this is also what the unsub would have seen. Reid explains that geography of northern California: a large valley surrounded by mountain ranges and supported by rivers and lakes that make it perfect for farming. This is something they must factor into their profile. When the telephone rings in Garcia's office in Quantico, she is ready. Reid asks her to track all unsolved burglaries in the small communities along the California railroad corridor, especially looking for crimes in homes within one mile of the train tracks. At the task force meeting, Hotch, Reid, and Prentiss begin to brief the officers and agents about their profile so far, and Hotchner reiterates that the killer is not traveling along Highway 99. He has targeted five homes and killed eight people in six weeks. He is a transient, somewhat fit, but bruised from his train-hopping and possible conflicts with other hobos. He'll be wearing clean clothing - the clothes he steals from his victims. The man will frequent the hobo camps, but, when he grows tired of them he chooses a home to "make his own." Reid describes the "sniffer's rash" that will be obvious around the unsub's mouth and nose from his use of household chemicals for an instant high. The killer dreams that the victims' homes actually belong to him. Prentiss tells the agents that, if they get close enough, they will notice him. "He will smell like a combination of human filth and paint thinner." The beautiful California scenery rushes by from his vantage point in the boxcar, carrying him to another small town, and another victim. There are many residents in the hobo camp, some drinking, some huffing, and all unwilling to talk with Rossi and Morgan until Rossi offers a candy bar in exchange for information. One young man takes him up on his offer. Showing his FBI identification, Morgan asks about someone who has been burglarizing homes. The young man shifts his eyes and asks, "Is this about Texas?" before hurrying away to begin sketching something on a dead tree nearby. An older man jokes about buying diamonds from another hobo, but Rossi shuts him down by describing the unsub's brutal crimes. He tells the agents the rough sketch on the tree will warn other hobos that the cops have been around recently. In fact, Morgan notes, there are patterns and symbols on many of the surfaces in the area. The hobos agree to translate them in exchange for candy or liquor. JJ leans back in her chair, smiling as she runs one hand over her swollen tummy. "He's kicking a lot today," she laughs. Seated nearby, Reid has clearly been reading up on pregnancy, and tells her that, in the third trimester, baby's kick approximately 30 times per hour. JJ pulls his hand over to rest it on her belly, and he feels the baby's movement. Reid pulls his hand away quickly, describing the sensation as "freaky." When Garcia calls with bad news, Reid gestures to bring Liman, Hotch, and Prentiss into the room. Garcia has found their unsub's DNA in three more small farm towns along the railroad line. These three towns are not even remotely close to Highway 99 - that may be why Agent Liman never found these crimes. One of the crimes is also the unsub's first. Morgan and Rossi need to find out everything they can about that crime. Later Garcia phones again. She has found a spike in the sales of particular crops in the specific towns where the unsub struck within one week of the crimes. He is most likely an itinerant farm worker. Angela Ortiz is surprised to find her parents' front door locked when she comes by with groceries. She knocks on the window to try to get their attention, and then walks around to peer into the bedroom window. She screams. Her parents' bodies are covered with blood propped up at the end of their bed, right next to a bloody bowling trophy. Hotchner, Reid, and Prentiss investigate the crime scene, Reid noting the newspaper that was displayed prominently next to the victims. The unsub is taunting them, become more and more confident and the span of time between each kill is shrinking rapidly. In the small town of Tehachapi, California, Rossi and Morgan stand on the front porch of the unsub's first victim: Mildred Younce was an older woman who lives by herself. She was known to offer food to transients in exchange for work around her home. Morgan notices a hastily scrawled drawing on a tree in Mrs. Younce's front yard, a triangle with an arrow. He asks the local detective what he'd find down the road, and the detective tells him the train tracks are in that direction. "Not just train tracks," Morgan notes. JJ calls Reid to tell the team that jewelry stolen in the Sacramento killing turned up in a Modesto pawn shop. The security camera did manage to get one photo of the man selling the jewelry - a small, dark man with a red rash around his mouth. A baseball cap shadows the man's eyes, but it is the unsub. He stands at the edge of a migrant worker camp and watches the children play before placing the cap back on his head and walking away, into the nearby town. Garcia lets JJ know that many farms set up camps for their transient workers. The camps are partially state-subsidized and require ID and a sign-in policy. Each camp is faxing a list of transients, and they should be able to see if any of the workers follow the same path as the unsub. Under a railroad bridge in Tehachapi, Rossi and Morgan find more evidence of a hobo population. They find the symbols for "safe camp," "safe water," and "catch out here," meaning it is a safe place to hop the train. Rounding a corner Rossi notes a cat with the number "718" scratched inside. The cat means "friendly old lady," and 718 is Mildred Younce's address. JJ calls to tell Morgan about a farm three miles from their location. She asks the two to go there and get employment records for the time immediately prior to Mildred's death. JJ then checks in with Hotchner, explaining that a Housing Authority Official is waiting for him at the local transient camp, and filling him in on the rest of the team's whereabouts. Hotch shakes his head at her incomparable organization and asks what the team is going to do without her when she goes on maternity leave. JJ smiles and reassures him that she won't leave him hanging. A few workers are still in the fields when the first truckload returns to the camp. Cesar Jimenez, the Housing Authority representative, is happy to meet Hotchner, Prentiss, and Reid, but he does not recognize the photo from the pawn shop. None of the disruptive behavior described by the agents sounds familiar to Cesar, and drug use is not tolerated. The three profilers wonder what is keeping their unsub traveling within a series of small towns in California when he could hop a train to anywhere in the United States. Also of interest is why the unsub, who steals from his victims, is still working the farms. The unsub walks through a camp and posts a thick white envelope on the bulletin board. Her exhaustive investigation has taught Garcia that one small group of workers, called a quadrilla, was located in four towns at the exact same time as their unsub. The group also worked in Tehachapi two days before Mildred Younce was killed. One man, Armando Salinas, was a member of the group in Tehachapi, but never signed in again. When she pulls up his rap sheet, she finds that he has a record for burglary and assault. The thin black man is their unsub - his fingerprints were found in Mildred Younce's house. Hotchner advises Garcia to get his photo out to the media. Armando Salinas' quadrilla checked into Lockeford, California, early this morning. The agents converge on Lockeford, south of Sacramento. At the transient camp, Cesar Jimenez and local ICE officers assist the agents. As soon as Cesar announces that the authorities have some questions, some of the transients scatter. Hotchner shouts at the officers to let them go. As Reid and Prentiss distribute photos of Armando Salinas, Cesar reads off the other names associated with his quadrilla. As she walks through the crowd, Prentiss notices that one older man seems particularly uncomfortable. She asks him if he knows the man, and he nods reluctantly. "Si, es mi hermano." She turns to Hotchner and translates: "It's his brother." They lead the man away. In a small sheriff's station, Prentiss speaks quietly with the man. He knew his brother had been following him from camp to camp, because he likes to know where he's going. His brother is not a good worker, he explains, and the quadrilla kicked him out. Prentiss tells the man what Armando has been doing, and he tells her that Armando has been leaving him money at the camps. He shows her the envelope that Armando left at the camp in Lockeford for him today. Hurrying out of the room, Prentiss explains the situation to Reid and the two brief the local officers, distributing photos of Armando Salinas. Morgan and Rossi are watching the tracks, and Hotchner and Agent Liman are patrolling the local streets, hoping to find Salinas before he strikes again. The two assign officers to patrol streets near the tracks, and tell them to watch for homes that might be susceptible to burglars. Night has fallen, and Armando wanders from the train and into the town. Armando's brother explains that his brother was in jail in Mexico before they came to the United States. Armando always hated work and hated the camps. He constantly complained about never having a nice bed in which to sleep. The alleys all look the same, the trash cans lined up neatly in a row as Armando walks past. One backyard is dark - there are no lights, no alarms, no barking dogs. Just a window glowing with welcome. Inside a woman has fallen asleep in front of the television. Armando always talked about having a house of his own, and a bed to sleep on instead of the floor. There is a shovel leaning up against the side of the house in an unfinished garden. Armando picks it up. A news broadcast as awakened the woman, and she squints he eyes, listening to a warning about keeping their doors locked and outside lights on. She leaps up and moves towards the door, flipping on the outside light switch. Glancing through the window she sees Armando, outlined in light, holding the shovel. She screams. Armando runs towards sound of the train whistle. Listening to a 911 call, Reid radios Morgan to tell him that the unsub is in his area, and he is sending Hotchner there to back him up. Armando leaps aboard a boxcar on a motionless train. The Lockeford train station bull tells Morgan and Rossi that he caught sight of Armando running down towards the trains, but there are over 100 cars to check. Rossi goes north, sending Morgan to the south, and the bull to the middle. The three move quickly but cautiously, checking in open doors, under cars and in dark corners. The train whistle sounds again - it is coming closer. When the bull steps into an open car Armando leaps out, knocking the man to the ground and beating him savagely. Morgan is nearby and sees him. He races toward the man yelling for him to stop. Armando runs off, and Morgan hurries past the slow-moving engine of the approaching train to try to tack him. Checking above him he sees Armando standing atop a car and looking down at him. Morgan races along beside the train, catches hold, and pulls himself up. Rossi radios Hotchner to tell him what has happened, and Hotchner slams on the brakes. he rushes to the passenger side of the car, yelling for Liman to take the wheel and get him up close to the moving train. Morgan climbs the ladder on the side of the car, but Armando is waiting for him at the top, and kicks him, causing Morgan to lose hold of the ladder with one hand. Swinging by one arm, Morgan fights for purchase, but Armando continues to flail at the agent, keeping him off balance. Liman steers the SUV alongside the train as it picks up speed, trying to get Hotchner close enough for a shot at the killer. Morgan struggles to hold on, and as Armando rears back for another strike Hotchner shoots him through the chest. Arriving back at the sheriff's office, Prentiss has bad news for Armando's brother. The next morning, life goes on in the green fields of the rich California valley. The transient workers pick the crops, and Armando's brother is there in place alongside them. "Beyond the East the sunrise, beyond the West the sea, and the East and West the wander-thirst that will not let me be." Gerald Gould. Back within the gray walls of the BAU offices in Quantico, Morgan, Reid and Prentiss are heading out to grab a burger when JJ catches up to them. She introduces them to Agent Jordan Todd, the woman who will be taking over for her while she is out on maternity leave. Morgan stares, open-mouthed: it is the woman he met in the coffee shop. Agent Todd recognizes each one from JJ's descriptions, and tells them how pleased she is to be working with the BAU. Morgan smiles slyly. JJ is beginning Todd's training since her due date is getting closer and closer. The two women move off to meet the rest of the team, Morgan heads to the elevator, hoping to forestall any ribbing from Prentiss and Reid. Too late - Prentiss notices that his forehead is sweating and he is avoiding eye contact, and Reid comments that his "blink rate" just sped up. Morgan stalks into the elevator and turns around, blocking their entrance. "You can't run from us," laughs Prentiss. "Oh, watch me," he grins as the elevator doors shut. [recap written by Finnegan77]

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